Psychics, Pneumatics and Sarkics (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)


 

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My father doesn’t like the word spiritual. He calls it a “whoo whoo” word and thinks it’s often used to mask deep irrationality, pride, and un-Christlikeness. He has a point. The Corinthians described themselves as “spiritual,” and they were a hot mess.

In the long history of the church, people have often appropriated the argot of spirituality as a means of distinguishing themselves from and then demeaning other Christians. First Corinthians 2:14-16, along with 3:1, has provided many with their lexicon of spiritual distinction.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord

that he may instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ (2:14-16).

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly… (3:1).

In these four verses, Paul uses three crucial words: psychikos, pneumatikos, and sarkinois. The NIV translates these terms as “man without the Spirit,” “spiritual man,” and “worldly [people].” The ESV, somewhat more literally, translates them as “natural person,” “spiritual person,” and “people of the flesh.” We’ll refer to them as psychics, pneumatics, and sarkics.

Psychics—in my special use of the word, not the palm-reading, crystal ball-gazing use—are people who have rejected the gospel. Paul makes three statements about them. They (1) don’t accept the gospel because (2) it seems foolish and (3) is therefore incomprehensible to them. This is a perfect description of “the rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8).

Pneumatics are people who, under the influence of the Spirit of God, have believed in the message of the cross of Jesus Christ and are therefore being saved by the power of God. They “know the mind of the Lord” because the Holy Spirit has given them “the mind of Christ.”

Sarkics are pneumatics who act like psychics but are too dense to admit that they’ve backslidden.

The Corinthians considered themselves pneumatics. They delighted in spiritual gifts, among other things, and they ran roughshod over one another to exercise those spiritual gifts. Moreover, they combined their so-called spirituality with their so-called wisdom and downplayed the centrality of the cross of Christ, which was embarrassing to them. I’m not sure whether the distinction between pneumatics, psychics, and sarkics is Paul’s or the Corinthians, but I’m quite sure that the distinction accurately captured the Corinthian mood. They rated themselves better than others.

That’s why Paul’s words must’ve shocked them completely. They weren’t spiritual. They weren’t even soulish, which is an excessively literal translation of psychikos. (In Greek, psyche is the word for “soul.”) They were fleshly (sarkinois)—the farthest thing from spiritual as could be imagined.

True pneumatics live at the foot of the cross, accepting the salvation it offers and living the life it models.

The Holy Spirit Is the Expert about God (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)


 

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Occasionally, I am the guest speaker at a church. As a guest, I am not well known, so the pastor says a few introductory words about me. Usually, the introduction boils down to this: “George Paul Wood is a good man and a good speaker, so pay attention to what he says.”

If you’ve never been introduced to an audience this way, you probably don’t know the embarrassment that arises from the discrepancy between others’ perception of you and your self-perception. Would anyone think I’m a good man if they knew what I know about me—my doubts, fears, and besetting sins? Would anyone think I’m a good speaker if they knew the intellectual sausage grinder my message had passed through before delivery?

This isn’t confession time, so I won’t go into detail about my own shortcomings. I simply want to make a point: You are the person who knows you best. You are the expert about you. That’s why, if others want to know you better, you must reveal yourself to them.

The same is true of God. So if we want to know him better, we must listen to his self-revelation. Consider what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

In Christian theology, God exists eternally as a unity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity is described using a familial analogy: father-son. But the relationship between the first and third persons is described using a psychological analogy: a man reflecting on his own thoughts.

The Holy Spirit is the expert about God. If there’s anything to be known about God, the Holy Spirit knows it and reveals it. If you want to know about God, then, you must pay attention to spiritual revelation.

Where does the Spirit reveal God? In creation, of course—for God is the Creator. And in conscience too, for God is our Judge. But the Spirit reveals God best in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ “who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1:30).

How do you come to know God personally? Too many of us rely on “words taught by human wisdom.” To know a man, ask a man to reveal himself. But to know God, you must ask him for the same. God is his own expert, and he speaks to us through the Spirit.

Immigration and the Bible: Changing the Conversation


“How can we process the topic of immigration as informed believers?”

This is the question M. Daniel Carroll R. sets out to answer in Immigration and the Bible, a 60-minute video produced by Urban Entry. The video was taped at a forum held by the Christian Community Development Association in Phoenix, Arizona, in January 2010.

Caroll is author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Border.

You may or may not agree with Carroll’s conclusion, but every Christian needs to wrestle biblically with the immigration issue as he has done.

Mandela’s Way


Richard Stengel, Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage (New York: Crown, 2010). $23.00, 256 pages.

What would Nelson Mandela do?

Toward the end of Mandela’s Way, Richard Stengel asks this question. Stengel helped Mandela write his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, in the early 1990s, and this question helped him “internalize [Mandela] and his ideas.” Mandela’s Way is biographical, but with a moral point. How can reflecting on the life of Nelson Mandela help us live?

The tradition of biography as moral exercise is as old as the Greeks and Romans, not to mention Jews and Christians, but it has taken new form with the uniquely American literary genre of Leadership Secrets of X, usually some famous person. When I picked up Mandela’s Way, I was hoping for the older form of the tradition but worried that I would get the newer one. Few things are more aggravating than the simplification of a person’s life for the purpose of making the reader a better businessman. Stengel, thankfully, did not disappoint me.

As a college student in the late 80s and early 90s, I was aware of Mandela and the struggle of the African National Congress and others to end South African apartheid. I knew little about the man, however. Mandela’s Way is an excellent introduction to his life and struggle, presented thematically rather than chronologically. If one metric of a book’s quality is that it inspires you to read more on the subject, then this book is quite successful.

The subtitle of Stengel’s book is Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage. My guess is that Stengel’s publisher came up with this verbiage, as a nod to the newer form of moral biography. The lessons are simple—“Courage is not the absence of fear,” “Lead from the front,” “Lead from the back,” etc.—without being simplistic. The way Stengel achieves this is by rooting each lesson in the context of Mandela’s life, struggle, and self-reflection.  

 Prison dominates the narrative. Mandela spent three decades in South African prison. It molded him as a man and as a leader. It also cost him personally in many ways. Stengel takes measure of both the good and the bad in his portrait of Mandela’s life. What emerges is a man who is morally tough, politically pragmatic—except on the all-important issue of a racially just South Africa, and personally resilient. Mandela’s story inspired me.

“What would Nelson Mandela do?” reflects, whether consciously or not, a phrase popularized by American evangelicals: “What would Jesus do?” As a Christian and as a pastor, what strikes me is the absence of religion in Mandela’s life. He is, according to Stengel, “a materialist in the philosophical sense.” He believes that there is “no destiny that shapes our end; we shape it ourselves.” Of course, he aligned with religious leaders such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, but without sharing their faith. And of course, the Afrikaner architects of apartheid were the progeny of the South African Reformed churches.

Which leads to this irony: Opponents of apartheid asked “What would Nelson Mandela do?” precisely because its proponents did not ask, or did not answer rightly, “What would Jesus do?”

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P.S. If this review was helpful to you, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

How We Know What We Know (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)


 

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How do we know what we know?

We know some things by reason. I know that I drank a venti chai latte this morning on my way to work. I know that 2 + 2 = 4. I know that if all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal. I know that George Washington was the first president of the United States. I know that I lived at 973 Begonia Avenue for most of my childhood. These statements are examples of how we build knowledge through reason by means of experience, intuition, logical entailment, credible authorities, and memory.

We know other things by revelation. For example, I know that my wife Tiffany wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder when she was a little girl. Her parents dressed her in a prairie frock and bonnet and let her run through the high grass at a field near their house. I didn’t experience this personally. I didn’t intuit it. Logic didn’t entail it. I didn’t remember it. Tiffany told me about it.

Revelation is the means by which we build personal knowledge of others. Obviously, we can use reason too. On my first date, I know that Tiffany wore a white shirt, blue jacket, tan shirt, and brown high-heel boots. (I also know that she wore a thin pink bow in her hair, but Tiff claims my knowledge is faulty at this point.) I observed all this about her and remember it to the present day. But there’s a difference between knowing about a person and knowing a person.

Reason can teach us things about a person, but to truly know that person requires their self-revelation.

The same is true of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, Paul writes:

However, as it is written:

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him—

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

 

It would be easy to misunderstand these words and conclude that reason plays no role whatsoever in our knowledge of God. When Paul writes, “No eye has seen…no mind has conceived,” doesn’t he rule out experience and abstract conceptualization as sources of knowing “what God has prepared for those who love thim”?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, Yes, for the best thinkers of the world never conceived of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), and yet he is “the power of God” for our salvation (1:18). Reason has its limits.

On the other hand, No. We know God by means of self-revelation. Paul writes, “God has revealed it [his plan of salvation] to us by his Spirit.” Reason may not be the source of this knowledge of God, but it helps us sift through what we know to understand him better.

How do we know what we know about God? Revelation assisted by reason. When God reveals himself to us, he gives us brains to understand what he’s said.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


 

 

 

 

 

 

Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010). $21.99, 352 pages.

 Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is making mischief again, this time with a literary mashup of Abraham Lincoln and vampires. I’m a huge fan of the sixteenth president, so I wasn’t sure I would appreciate his being turned into a Yankee Van Helsing. But the book was generally well written and entertaining, even though it became a bit predictable, once you figured out who the vampires were. Also, the ending didn’t work for me at all. Reading fiction is an exercise in the willing suspension of disbelief. But there’s disbelief and there’s disbelief, and the ending was clearly the latter. Still, I’d recommend reading the book for a few nights of creatively mindless entertainment.

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P.S. If this review was helpful to you, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com page.

A Toddler’s Misuse of Words (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)


 

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My son Reese is learning to talk. His favorite word is mama, followed closely by bird, dog, Chuck (the name of our Yorkshire Terrier), please, and fish. He throws out dada every now and then, although it’s humbling to think that birds outrank me in my son’s lexicon. Lately, Reese has even been using a two-word phrase at the end of meals: all done.

Reese doesn’t always use these words properly, however. He sometimes calls other dogs Chuck, for example, using our dog’s name for members of the canine family generally. Recently, while walking with me through Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Reese called every stuffed raccoon, squirrel, bobcat, and skunk a dog. And he seems to think please is a command, not a request.

Reese is a toddler, so his use and misuse of words is a byproduct of his cognitive development. Twenty years from now, if he’s still calling Springfield’s four-legged taxidermy dog, I’ll be worried. But for now, I’m happy with every word and phrase he uses, not to mention all the chirps, giggles, and squeaks.

Like Reese, the Corinthians had a burgeoning vocabulary. One of their favorite words was wisdom. Another was spiritual. They considered themselves wise and spiritual people. Unfortunately, just as my son Reese misused words, so the Corinthians misused them. The only difference? The Corinthians didn’t know they were toddlers, spiritually speaking.

Consider what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

In this passage, Paul employs the Corinthians’ words, but with the correct meanings.

The Corinthians evidently considered themselves both wise and spiritually mature. But as we have seen from 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, their so-called “wisdom” and “maturity” made them ashamed of the cross rather than boastful of the divine power that effected their salvation through it. The Corinthians liked nice speeches that used highfalutin’ philosophical concepts. Paul’s preaching lacked both. So, they considered him foolish and immature by comparison to themselves.

In response, Paul spoke of a “secret wisdom” that only the “mature” can understand. Even “the rulers of this age” did not understand this message. If I were a Corinthian Christian, I’d be interested in what Paul had to say. Who wouldn’t want to be in on the secret that excluded even the high and mighty? So as the Corinthians drew closer to hear Paul’s secret, he talked about…the crucified Lord of glory.

Spirituality must always come back to Jesus Christ crucified. He is God’s wisdom and power for salvation. Any spirituality that doesn’t begin and end with that humbling truth is a toddler’s misuse of words.

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